Mayor David Briley announced a bold plan to attempt to increase the affordable housing stock in Nashville. Will it work?
Over the past decade, Nashville hasn’t been able to keep pace with the amount of affordable housing the city needs. As the city continues to experience an influx of new residents, the problem gets worse and worse. A housing report released by Metro Nashville in 2017 said that Nashville’s affordable housing shortage would be at a deficit of nearly 31,000 units by 2025.
A new plan out of Mayor David Briley’s office is aiming to cut into that number a bit — the “Under One Roof 2029” plan announced at the end of March wants to, “significantly accelerate the city’s efforts to address housing needs.”
And it has a big number attached to it: Briley, whose announcement comes as he’s running for mayor, wants to invest $750 million into affordable housing over the next decade. He says the plan could create at least 10,000 units of affordable housing.
"Nashville is thriving in many ways, and that is a good thing, as growth creates better-paying jobs and generates revenue for schools, roads, parks and libraries,” Briley said in a release. “Yet the true measure of a great city is how it treats all of its citizens — making sure growth is balanced by continuing to invest in people. The Under One Roof 2029 initiative will help ensure we all move forward together.”
"When people talk about affordable housing, they can mean different things depending on their circumstances and needs," Briley said. "Shelter is the most extreme and urgent need, but living near work and being able to keep a roof over your head while earning even the most modest full-time wage are also critically important.”
A release from the Mayor’s Office outlines the plan in the following terms:
Will it work?
Skeptics of the plan — most notably John Ray Clemmons, Briley’s opponent in the mayoral race — say that the plan might not fully address the issue.
“In six years, Nashville is estimated to have a 31,000-unit shortage for middle-class and low-income families,” Clemmons said in a statement “This constitutes a crisis and requires bold leadership and innovative, substantive action. Unfortunately, the Mayor’s plan falls short in both respects.”
Clemmons also took a bit of a dig and called Briley’s plan “a newfound focus on affordable housing.”
“As our city has prospered, too many Nashville families have been left behind and displaced from their neighborhoods,” Clemmons said.
District 19’s Freddie O’Connell and At-Large Councilmember Bob Mendes both question where exactly the money will come from.
The portion of funds that will be used to speed up the Envision process, which includes transforming Cayce Place, Edgehill Apartments and Napier and Sudekum into multi-income communities, would be a $350 million investment into MDHA. Mendes has questioned whether that means the Envision process was behind to begin.
MDHA, of course, is happy to received the extra funds.
“Today’s announcement is an extraordinary step forward for the city. Mayor Briley’s leadership is enabling us to leverage local dollars for the benefit of those most in need in Nashville,” said Charles Robert Bone, chair of the MDHA Board of Directors. “Getting federal, state and local dollars to work together will enable us to get many more families into the homes they need. It also will put Nashville at the forefront of affordable housing efforts across the country.”
Briley’s announcement says that “the local investment will allow MDHA to seek additional federal dollars to expand the number of affordable housing units built, creating more than 5,000 new homes at MDHA properties, with at least 1,000 ‘deeply affordable’ units for those facing the most acute need plus another 1,600 affordable and workforce housing units.”
Some have also wondered whether the part of the plan that requires the private sector to pitch in will pan out. It’s been a wish of advocates for a long time that those with more financial means, particularly those in the real estate world, in the city would donate to help with the affordable housing crisis. If they haven’t so far, then why would they now? The ask is also large: $250 million from the private sector would take some big commitments.
Briley’s announcement indicates that “the Mayor’s Office is exploring a number of avenues to facilitate greater private-sector partnership and investment in affordable housing. The Mayor has also committed to personally working with private-sector leaders to advance those discussions.”
In short, Briley thinks he can be the catalyst that finally makes the private sector kick in some cash.
The other piece of the puzzle is a $150 million injection into the Barnes Fund, which the Mayor’s Office says can create 5,000 units of affordable housing.
“The Barnes Fund plays a critical role in empowering nonprofit housing developers to work with the city to create more affordable housing opportunities for people. It’s public-private partnership at its best,” said Kaki Friskics-Warren, chair of the Metro Housing Trust Fund Commission, which oversees the Barnes Fund. “This significant, ongoing commitment of public dollars to the Barnes Fund will help build capacity within the nonprofit development community and kick it into higher gear than ever.”
Briley also wrapped the already announced $25 million for housing for people experiencing homelessness into his announcement. The $25 million will go toward building 100 units of permanent supportive housing, which will be attached to a homeless service center downtown.
Also wrapped into the funding release was the announcement of an MDHA staff member dedicated to the Under One Roof initiative. Matt Wiltshire, who was the director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development, will now take on the role as MDHA’s Chief Strategy and Intergovernmental Affairs Officer. According to the Mayor’s Office, Wiltshire will oversee “MDHA’s overall strategy and strengthening coordination of public and private partners.”
Despite concerns about where the money comes from and whether the plan is “bold” enough — and the perceptions of making the announcement during an election cycle — steps toward affordable housing are needed and beyond due. Over the next decade, as the city continues to sprawl, we’ll see whether $750 million is near enough to fix the problem.